His severe headaches were diagnosed as a brain cancer, eventually leading to a series of surgeries and, ultimately, a 12-year struggle that came to an end on Thanksgiving evening at Stein Hospice.
“He was just a straight arrow,” said his father, Dick Wennes, who taught and coached football and girls basketball at Huron Schools for decades. “He was a good athlete and a good man, and he loved Huron” Rich, 44, was all about sports. He was the youngest owner of stock in the Cleveland Cavaliers — his grandfather bought him five shares in his name in 1970, when he was just an infant.
He was an avid fan of Cleveland sports and Ohio State University sports, but an even bigger fan of Huron athletics. He’dsometimes give his father an earful, all in good fun, if he caught him wearing Perkins Pirates gear, even though his brother-in-law was Perkins Pirates football coach Jason Ziegler.
His love for his hometown was repaid the week before he died. His brother, Rhett, recorded the Huron football team singing the school’s fight song in his honor, after a practice where the Tigers prepared for their Division V regional championship game against Coldwater.
“We all had our cell phones out, playing it for him,” Dick said. “They say he knew what was being played”
The importance of the moment wasn’t lost on the players.
“We try to keep our kids in touch with the past and to know the history of the men who were part of the program,” Huron football coach Tony Legando said. “The kids sang it the way it should be sung”
Rich was a football and basketball star at Huron Schools. He went on to play football at the U.S. Air Force Preparatory School, leaving after a year and receiving an honorable discharge.
He then attended Bowling Green State University, where he played football as a walk-on receiver. He earned his bachelor’s degree in education in 1992, then his master’s degree in education from Ashland University in 1998.
He taught social studies and coached football and basketball at Edison High from 1994-98, joining the Sandusky High staff in 1999 as a teacher and a varsity assistant to Blue Streaks boys basketball coach Ed Kurt.
“Rich was just a great guy,” said Kurt, now superintendent at Margaretta Schools. “He cared a lot about kids. He cared a lot about educating kids and coaching kids.
“The big benefit I got from bringing him on my staff was he was a young man who grew up as a coach’s kid,” Kurt said. “That’s something that is priceless, because they understand the dedication and devotion it takes”
Rich replaced Kurt as varsity coach when Kurt accepted a position as principal at Perkins Schools.
“Rich’s character and integrity made him a natural fit for the job,” said Denny Muratori, the athletic director who hired Rich as varsity basketball coach at Sandusky. Muratori is now superintendent of Huron Schools. “He had a familiarity with our students and program and a desire to work with and mentor the students of Sandusky High School. We thought he was the natural choice”
Rich’s head coaching career lasted just one year, going 13-10 with a Division I sectional championship. His illness led to a surgery in Sandusky and three more at Duke University, and it eventually forced him to step down after that season.
“Rich was a very physically fit person,” Kurt said. “I know he fought this with every ounce of his being. But this illness is just terrible. When you put things into perspective, if you run a basketball program, you want it to be successful and you want to win. But if you don’t have your health, it doesn’t matter much”
Services are set for 11 a.m. today at Grace Episcopal Church, 315 Wayne St. in Sandusky. Memorial donations can be directed to the Kailee and Drew Wennes Trust Fund, Citizens Banking Co., 100 E. Water St., Sandusky, or to Stein Hospice Services, 1200 Sycamore Line, Sandusky.
“The family is a wonderful family, and Rich was such a nice guy,” said Steve Keller Jr., who was part of the Sandusky boys basketball staff with Rich. Keller is currently head basketball coach at Margaretta Schools. “He handled the whole situation with such dignity and integrity. Rich cared about the student and the student-athlete, and he was willing to put in the time it took”